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The Kanievskys Blow the Whistle on Daas Torah
My, this is interesting.
Rav Chaim Kanievsky ztz"l was proclaimed for many years to be the authoritative voice of Daas Torah. Countless people would stream to him for advice, on matters of tremendous significance. All the charedi press enthusiastically supported this, and it was unthinkable for anyone to publicly oppose him. For example, during the Covid pandemic, the US edition of Yated Ne'eman reported as follows:
In Praise of Rav Chaim
Opening summer zman for Yerushalayim's Mir yeshiva via conference call, Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel spoke to thousands of talmidim about Rav Chaim Kanievsky's greatness and his inimitable guidance of the Torah world during the current crisis.
"Boruch Hashem, the hashgocha has left us nevi'ei emes including the great luminary, the wonder of the generation, the master of the entire Talmud who would be a member of the Sanhedrin if it existed, the prince of Torah whose words are all divrei kabbolah and who has no knowledge of external affairs," he said. "All his words emanate from ruach Hashem and the Torah within him is divrei Elokim chaim vekayomim la'ad."
But on several occasions over the past decade, I argued that this "Daas Torah" was a sham. Rav Chaim was a sheltered and very elderly man, with his mind clearly in cognitive decline, and was being manipulated by his family for power and money.
I was far from the only one to argue this. And when an Israeli satirical TV show produced a skit to this effect, showing him to be in cognitive decline and manipulated by his grandson, there was a furious reaction from the charedi world.
Well, lo and behold, this has now been acknowledged by none other than some of Rav Kanievsky's own children.
One aspect of Rav Chaim's genuine greatness was the simplicity of his lifestyle. However, after his passing, his meager possessions were worth a fortune. A wealthy collector offered his son Rav Yitzchak Shaul (Shuki), who lived in Rav Chaim's home and handled his affairs along with his own son Yanky, seven million dollars for Rav Chaim's handwritten notes on the Talmud Yerushalmi.
Rav Shuki's two brothers, Rav Avraham Yeshaya Kanievsky and Rav Shlomo Kanievsky, only discovered this after negotiations were underway. Naturally, they were expecting to evenly divide the estate (the five daughters were not expecting anything). But to their surprise and dismay, Rav Shuki revealed a secret handwritten letter from Rav Chaim declaring that Shuki should be his sole heir!
The brothers turned to Beis Din. They argued to the Beis Din that when Rav Chaim wrote this letter - all the way back in 2013 - he was already in cognitive decline and was manipulated by R. Shuki into writing it!
This was indeed a very reasonable claim. First of all, it is extraordinarily unreasonable to propose that he didn't want to divide his estate evenly. Second, he clearly was in cognitive decline and being manipulated - and the sons were in a prime position to be aware of that!
But R. Shuki and his family countered this claim. They put forward the following argument: How can you say that he was manipulated into making decisions, when he had the role of giving guidance to the entire generation? This argument may not have been logically sound, but it was strategically brilliant. The other sons had always been quite happy to play along with the idea that Rav Chaim was Daas Torah - how could they only now claim that it was a sham?
Nevertheless, the Dayanim and Rabbanim of Bnei Brak forced R. Shuki to divide the estate. It's not entirely clear if this was done as a formal verdict that the letter was invalid. The reported claim was that they insisted this to be done "to avoid a Chillul Hashem," though it's not specified exactly what that chillul Hashem would have been. It hardly seems to avoid chillul Hashem to have a handwritten letter from Rav Chaim that is being overruled.
To my mind, the greatest chillul Hashem already took place, over many years. And there is all the devastation to all those who were given faulty direction in various matters by someone who was unqualified to give it. As I've said on several occasions, the blame and responsibility for this farce is not only with Rav Chaim's family, but with every public figure, rabbi and magazine that endorsed the idea of Rav Chaim being a voice of Daas Torah for people's life decisions. No doubt they all prefer that the truth of what happened with his sons does not receive publicity.